John Cale

Inside the Dream Syndicate, Vol. 1: Day of Niagara [1965]

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Since its initial release, controversy has swirled around this album. In the early '60s, John Cale, Tony Conrad, La Monte Young, Angus Maclise, and Marian Zazeela were all a part of New York's underground music and emergent minimalist scenes. In a variety of formations, usually involving Cale, Conrad, and Young, they played together billed alternately as the Theater of Eternal Music or as the Dream Syndicate. Together they were articulating what were to become the central tenets of American minimalism. They disbanded around 1965, and since then all involved have staked, depending on the day and weather, various claims to the group's musical and philosophical ideas and -- more importantly in this case -- unreleased recordings. This album, a remastered copy of a tape from one of the Dream Syndicate's sessions recorded in Young's Church Street apartment, was released without anyone's expressed written consent and occasioned a ten-page statement from Young and his lawyer contesting the label's legal authority to put out this "unauthorized bootleg." The record makes these issues of intellectual property all the more critical, as the few obscure albums from the Dream Syndicate are long out of print and notoriously difficult to find. For anyone who cares about the history of American music, however, the album is an exceptional piece of musical history. All of the early precepts of minimalism are present -- incremental variation, drone, sustained pitch -- as well as the emphasis on group creation through improvisation. Unfortunately, the mix is not overwhelming in quality, and the effects of the interplay among instruments is lessened. Nonetheless, the album is sonically beatific, formally profound, and an incomparable look inside the Syndicate. Table of the Elements should be praised for letting the chips fall where they may in the interest of a more complete understanding of music history, especially since history is still too near to clearly substantiate anyone's claims.

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